Ryan's Focal Clear Review

focal
review

#1

Overview

First off I’d like to thank Andrew, Taron, and Torq for building the community preview program, which I was fortunate enough to ascertain these headphones through. If you haven’t yet, take a look at the requirements to becoming a core team member as the benefits are truly amazing. Included is the ability to preview some really great audio gear. Thanks again!

The Focal Clears are a truly amazing set of headphones. Their outstanding qualities include excellent spaciousness and dynamic range. Full specs of these headphones are below.

Type: Circum-aural open-back headphones

Impedance: 55 ohms

Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW A 1kHz

THD: 0.25% @1kHz / 100cB SPL

Frequency Reponse: 5Hz - 28kHz

Loudspeaker: 1.6" (40mm) Aluminum/Magnesium ‘M’-shape dome

Weight: 0.99 lb

TL’DR: Outstanding headphones with top of the line dynamic range, spaciousness, build, and quality. Downsides include intimacy, cable options and $1500 price tag.

Build/ Accessories

The build quality of the Clears exceeded all of my expectations. These are known to be very high quality all around but the material quality in all facets is really stellar. Starting with the accessories, you get a hard shelled carrying case which is thermo-formed to hold the headphones and a few cables/ accessories. The outside of the case is covered in a thin flecked fabric which adds to its aesthetic appeal. The case comes with a handle for carrying or you can throw it in a bag without worrying about damaging your expensive headphones. Inside the case are the first set of 24 AWG oxygen free cables that come with the Clear.

This 1.2 mm cable is terminated in a 3.5mm connector for small portable devices. It also has a threaded quarter inch adapter. The cables are all wrapped in a black and white fabric which makes for a very elegant design. The cables are all fairly stiff and hold very well when wrapped.

The other two cables come in an accessory box within the retail box both are 3 meters long and one is terminated in a quarter inch jack, the other in a balanced XLR. The one problem with each of these cables is their length. The short cable is too short and the longer cables are too long. The goldilocks length of 2 meters is not available. With the 3 meter cable I could easily walk around my room with the headphones plugged in on my desk. The 1.2 meter cable barely made it to my lap when sitting down and did not reach the DAC on my desk while sitting a meter or so away. This might come down to personal preference, but it was a bit of a pain to an otherwise splendid experience.

On to the headphones themselves. The shell of the Clears is made out of aluminum which makes them very strong. The headband is extremely comfortable, made of leather and memory foam. The underside of the headband and ear cups have a layer of microfibre fabric which makes them silky smooth, however easily stained. The light grey color does not help with this as sweat, and other fluids will easily make marks. Overall the headphones are fairly light,weighing in at only 1 pound. They sit very nicely on the head.

Sound

I don’t even know how to begin this section because the Clears sound so far and above the headphones I normally have the capacity to listen to. That should give you an idea of the kind of experience these elicit. To start as a picture of my listening habits, I am mainly a Jazz, Blues, Classical, Classic Rock, and Electronic listener. All of the music I have listened to during these tests falls into these categories. I listen louder than I probably should, and I prefer a warmer sound signature which borders on neutral.

I burned in the clears for three days for about 15 hours before I began listening. The box these came in was still shrink wrapped so I believe these were brand new! After burn in I began by listening to my main testing albums including Fritz Reiners recording of Scheherazade, Paul Simon’s Graceland, The Allman Brothers Live at Filmore East and Renaissance Live at Carnegie Hall. You can find my electronic listening playlist on Spotify here.

I did my main listening from JRiver, with FLAC recordings though the Modi 2 Uber DAC and Cavalli Tube Hybrid Amp with Bugle Boy 6922 tube. I also listened for a bit on a Fiio x5III and newly acquired Acer Chromebook, but neither were truly detailed enough for these headphones.

The first thing that hit me like a brick was how open these headphones sounded. The expansion of soundstage is truly breathtaking. I was able to pinpoint individual instruments, separated by an inky blackness. In larger pieces like in Scheherazade I was able to pick out individual violinists even. Truly amazing stuff. This immediately came at a price as some smaller pieces failed to muster the intimacy of closed back offerings. However this was the only thing I could say negatively about these cans.

Vocals come through clear and crisp. Female vocals have great sound and male vocals are deep and punchy without being too gravely. Dynamics are another thing these headphones do extremely well. Scheherazade is a particularly demanding album with large and expansive sections and booming orchestral melodies, followed by intimate violin arias. Besides losing intimacy due to expansive soundstage, the dynamic changes are fast and agile without taking away from the musicality of the piece. Even in quiet sections there is full and comprehensive sound.

Bass is punchy and controlled. During my foray into electronic music there was a clear separation between all octaves and punchy bass didn’t dilute the highs. Even at high volumes everything was very detailed. Highs aren’t sibilant rather very detailed and beautiful. The sonic qualities of this headphone are quite superb.

Overall these headphones are on my list if I ever find them to have fallen off a truck, or I mysteriously find $1500 in my laundry basket. As for the real world, $1500 is a bit too high of a price to pay for a luxury like these for me. Sure, they are truly the best headphones I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but that is a large chunk of change. As a whole, but personally I don’t believe these are really worth $1500. At a lower price, I may see the value. For now, the headphones with all their spacy goodness sit at a respectful 9/10.

Cheers,

-Ryan


Focal Clear - Review & Impressions Index
Announcing the HEADPHONE Community Preview Program
#2

Nice write-up!

The Macallan there makes a nice impromptu headphone stand!

It’s nice to see people taking advantage of the Community Preview Program, as well as the reviews that are coming out of it. Compared to every other site I’ve participated in/on, I’ve never seen quite such a broad, deep or varied array of gear available for qualified members to audition and review.

Again nice job!

I hope you’ll do more of these … there’s some very cool stuff in the program already.


#3

Excellent review! Smile-GIF-Image-for-Whatsapp-and-Facebook-10-300x200%20copy
I have had both the Utopias and the Clears and I must say I found the Clears to be much more to my liking. I found the Soundstage wider and deeper. In fact the depth of the Clears provided much more depth. I found them a little bit less dynamic. I was glad I sold the Utopias to get the Clears.
Unfortunately this disease of have of buying and selling like a rabid dog sometimes does not allow me to enjoy a piece of gear for longer than a taste of it.
Lastly I was able to buy the Clears for less than the price you mentioned and personally consider than one of the best headphone gear out their. I miss them enough after 2 months of owning them. I expect they will enjoy a more permanent place in my home soon.


#4

Great review. I agree with all you have said regarding the Focal Clears. I am loving my pair and they’re getting plenty of head time. The build is indeed sublime. And oh, the sound is stellar. Thanks for a great read.


#5

Thank you Ryan. Very good review.

Like you said, the cable lengths are an individual preference. Personally, I like the 4 footer for sitting on a swivel rocker, listening to online music, while plugged into an Amazon tablet that rests on my lap. The 4 foot length is perfect for that. The 10 footers are likewise good for me because of the ways I listen to music through headphone amps…and even, once in a while, through a receiver.

But mainly I’d say this of the Clear. I find them essentially as good as my HD800S, but with the added benefit of having both more bass and weight to their sound. As much as I love some other headphones–especially the HD800S–the Clears may be the best “all arounder” I’ve ever heard (most favorable characteristics and least unfavorable). I’ve only been listening to them for several weeks, so haven’t reached a final conclusion. But as a minimum I think the Focal Clear is, by far, one of the best headphones ever made.

One thing more. Of all the places on the internet where the Clears were recently on sale, it was the easiest and least hassle to buy them here at the Headphone Community…which I did.


#6

I ran out of places to put my headphones and it was actually perfect haha. Makes it harder to get my drink on though! :grinning:


#7

I have a question. Is it DRAMATICALLY different AND BETTER than Sennheiser HD 600 for mostly classical and jazz.


#8

I have the Sennheiser HD 6XX and I have to say that it is dramatically better in imaging, dynamics and spaciousness. For the price difference, it might be a personal preference in terms of bang for your buck though.


#9

I no longer have the HD6XX, but I have most of the Focal line and Elex and Clear are in my opinion much better, but it comes down to what you are willing to pay also. Clear is ever so, better than the Elex, and if you have the means I would recommend it over the Elex.